National Gallery of Art

Portrait of Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo da Vinci

"New Girl in Town": Washington Gets a Leonardo

On a cold night in January 1967, a plane landed quietly at National Airport. No one could know where it came from and what it carried. in fact, the only indication of the plane's arrival came through a coded message, sent by the FBI agents on board: "the Bird" had landed. Despite all this, though, the only thing that came off the plane was a perfectly ordinary, plain grey American Tourister suitcase. No one suspected anything.

However, rumors circulated. Two weeks later, the New York Times broke the news that Washington's National Gallery of Art had landed the art deal of the century: the purchase of a painting by one of the most famous artists in the world, Leonardo da Vinci. 

How I.M. Pei Brought Modern Architecture to the National Mall

Exterior view of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art (Credit: Difference Engine on Wikipedia, licensed via Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license)

When I.M. Pei, the celebrated Chinese-American architect from New York, was selected to design a new addition for D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, the Washington Post’s architecture critic remarked it was “no doubt one of the toughest [assignments] since Michelangelo was asked to put a dome on St. Peter’s.” Pei knew it would be a difficult task to build the new gallery, but that did not deter him. This is the story of how one of Washington's most unique buildings came to be.